Personally speaking, I have always considered the light novel as a genre of its own. It is not merely the amalgam of fantasy and sci-fi, coupled with romance at times, that stock the Young Adult shelves of today. Granted, I read them not in their intended form, which is that of Japanese text, but it is with the essence of the novel that makes for me the biggest difference. I attribute it to the specific literary nature of the Japanese – a style that is their own; completely common-place to them yet, to the eyes of an outside reader, a relatively new and unfamiliar sight.
An unfamiliar sight indeed, being shared by what I would assume as, a relatively small niche of fans of Japanese media in general. It may even be pigeon-holed as being only for fans of Japanese media in general. Anime and manga fans are a more casual bunch in that regard I should say. To watch a story unfold in anime, as supposed to reading one in a novel is in theory something that most would consider more fun to actually do after all.
Is it really that hard to transcribe that experience, that of anime and manga, into a book?
Author Miko Limjoco wishes to do just that.
With his own spin on writing light novels, he welcomes readers into the land in darkness; Kuro.
This review will be for Book One of Kuro, A Vanished Goddess. Taking what was given from the synopsis, and what the title of Book One implies it is safe to assume that a good bulk of the novel focuses on the major storyline, which I would refer to during the review as the “mythology” thread of Mina, the girl who can manifest sunlight, as she begins her journey in Kuro. Of course, in the talk of beginning journeys, that goes for all the other characters as well, as we also see a good portion of the “political” thread of the story starting to take shape in the character of Drake Riordan and his quest for the truth veiled by Taiyou-Shi and the Diskarma Corporation.
It would be good to note from that slew of names just now that the Kuro-verse is vast, and within the first few chapters it is as clear as day that it is so. A good point of reference for anime fans (and even Japanese light novel fans) would be the To Aru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) series by Kazuma Kamachi, as it shares a similar dichotomy of “worlds” (so far) as well as showing foreign influences in terms of naming, characterization and scenery (though it is mostly naming on Index’s part). It is also very reminiscent of the character mechanics of the Durarara!! series by Narita Ryogo (interwoven plot-lines, multiple characters in focus). Kuro in its enirety, according to Miko Limjoco, has inspirations from many Asian mythologies; naming a few to be that of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean – the latter three already made apparent in Book One. Being a Pilipino myself, the prospect of having our native myths being read by non-Pilipinos in this sort of context is beyond wonderful.
However it is from that element that one of my small (almost trivial) concerns for Kuro came about. In part with its oriental richness of the different themes present in the story are the naming schemes and the names in general. Being as culturally diverse as it is, some names (Xiang Yu, Ava Faselheim, Felicia Silverstath) took some time getting used to. It doesn’t help that almost every shift in narrative focus there are new characters or places being mentioned. I was contemplating that fact midway into the novel but as it stands this is really more of an introductory novel (at least my take on it is as such) so the moments of info-dump is for the most part forgivable. Plus, a good handful of Japanese light novels really do tend to favor foreign (and often gratuitous) naming schemes, though if Miko Limjoco intended for that similarity is only my assumption.
I mentioned earlier the division of “mythology” and the “political” with the overall storyline, with the former being more fantasy inclined as supposed to the latter which comes off as more sci-fi. This is done by near-seamless transitions aided by the fact that the entire thing is written in a third-person limited narrative point of view; something I don’t see too often in light novels. You would often see this style pre-dominantly in Western style writing. I myself saw shades of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in there just from the general atmosphere it creates. Suffice to say there is a lot of shifting involved (i.e. from fantasy, to sci-fi, to fantasy) and, being third person POV the narrative manages to have a very steady flow regardless. The pacing however may have been the one taking the hits. I would describe it as “shaky” early on in the novel and a bit in the later part as well. There were definitely some divets every now and then that slow the pace down (Drake’s first encounter with the Utter Darkness, Sergei Diskarma’s agenda meeting, the introduction of the Yin Empire). This doesn’t necessarily hurt the reading experience as a whole though, and the pace picks up quickly around the middle parts of the novel.
Coinciding with that, the middle part was definitely my favorite bunch of chapters to read through, mostly because it showed the most allusion and feel of a light novel. I suppose it is because it is around this part of the story that another of Kuro’s main cast is introduced; the mysterious Vannah Searra von Talthys from the “mythology” side. As mysterious as she is though, it was her back story and how a good portion of her character was developed in five to six chapters was what made her my favorite character in the Kuro-verse. Something of note in these few chapters is the temporary shift into a first person narrative POV. It was around this part that really hit home for me. The elements (from a light novel standpoint) were spot-on, from Vannah’s internal monologue to the epic large scale war at the invasion of Talthys. Towards the latter part, the novel ties up some of the early conflict from both sides of the story and in the process preparing the stage for the second book, leaving with us a completely unexpected cliffhanger for the “mythology” thread.
Over the course of this review you would notice that I would often refer to Japanese light novels as points of comparison, and as earlier stated Miko Limjoco’s intention was indeed to make something of that wavelength (an anime novel). My assessment is, style-wise Kuro is noticeably different from the traditional light novel. Most of the light novels I’ve read were done in first person POV, and focused more on internal exposition, as supposed to something more direct, which is common in Western writing. There are also some cultural styles in Japanese light novels that, in theory actually can be adapted (i.e. dialogue scheme between men and women) but the point in doing so for a Western audience brings it out of context and wouldn’t translate well if not at all. However, going back to my earlier sentiments, it was never about the style but the essence that would make a light novel. Miko Limjoco wanted to prove that there is an audience for the anime novel; an audience so used to Western writing. I would like to believe there is such an audience as well, and Kuro has the potential to pull them in; it may not be a Japanese light novel, and I don’t think Miko Limjoco was aiming for a direct reproduction – instead he has made what could be the beginning of the Western light novel.